I waivered a lot making this cake. It was initially supposed to be a red and blue velvet cake with cream cheese frosting. Then I changed my mind and decided to go with a vanilla cake instead. Then changed my mind about the frosting and decided to do a buttercream. While I was baking, I thought I’d make it a 3 layer cake, but after seeing how tall each layer was, opted for just 2 layers. I thought about covering it in fondant, then changed my mind again and stuck with fondant decorations instead. I’m surprised the cake turned out anything like what I had originally envisioned with the amount of times I changed my mind!
But I’m kind of proud of myself. I actually made this entire cake without screaming at it even once! Normally I would yell, “THIS IS WHY I DON’T MAKE CAKE!!” at least once every hour or so, but this one—nothing! It wasn’t a total breeze (is any cake a total breeze?), but it also wasn’t too hard either. I absolutely love the way it turned out. 2 layers of moist vanilla cake, smothered in a light lemon swiss meringue buttercream. And I actually managed to frost the cake so that it didn’t look like a kindergartener attempted it! (There was one minor mishap with a decorating comb thing that ended up scraping most of my frosting back off.. but after 10 minutes of smoothing, I managed to fix it. I have to remember next time to just leave. it. alone. )
And the taste? Total yum! I’m not really a cake person. Even if it’s exactly the same flavor, I’ll always pick a cupcake over having to slice a cake. But this one? I’d totally eat by the slice. The cake is moist and fluffy, and the buttercream is a light delicate flavor that doesn’t overwhelm your tastebuds. They’re a perfect combination. And the cake is darn pretty too. White on the outside, but bold and vibrant on the inside. And it slices like a DREAM! I’ve never had a cake that cut so perfectly. It’s just right for a 4th of July celebration! But beware. It’ll go quick. I hesitated bringing a cake into work, because while they snatch up cookies and cupcakes, there’s usually cake left over at the end of the night. This cake? It lasted 2 hours. And there were people that didn’t even get to try it! I’ll call that a winner.
Adapted from Baked by Rachel
Makes one 2-layer 8-inch or 9-inch round cake
1 cup milk
6 egg whites
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 ¾ cups sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
Red and blue food coloring (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350F. Spray with nonstick cooking spray or butter two 8-inch or 9-inch round cake pans. Sprinkle about a tablespoon of all purpose flour into each pan and turn to coat the pan, tapping out any excess; set aside.
2. In a liquid measuring cup or small bowl, whisk together milk, egg whites, vanilla extract and vanilla bean seeds to combine; set aside.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. (Or pulse the mixer a few times to combine.) Add butter, a tablespoon at a time, mixing on low until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. (It’ll look a bit like the start of pastry dough.)
4. Add half the milk mixture and beat until the dough is moist and thick (a bit like cookie dough). Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add remaining milk mixture and beat until combined. (Mixture should look more like batter now.)
5. If using food coloring, divide the batter evenly between two bowls. Add enough food coloring to each to achieve the desired color, mixing well to distribute color evenly.
6. Pour divided batter into prepared cake pans, filling pans about 2/3 to ¾ of the way full. Bake, rotating pans halfway until cake springs back when touched and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, about 30 to 32 minutes. Cool in cake pans on wire racks until just slightly warm. Turn cakes out of pan and allow to cool completely.
Lemon Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Adapted from Whisk Kid and Baked Bree
Makes enough to frost a 2-layer 8-inch round cake
7 large egg whites
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
1 ½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 ½ teaspoons lemon extract
1. In a bowl set over, but not touching, a pan of simmering water, whisk together egg whites and granulated sugar until well combined. Whisking constantly, heat until sugar is completely dissolved, about 5 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. (To test whether the sugar is melted, rub a bit of the mixture between your fingers. It should feel smooth, not grainy, and be warm to the touch, but not hot.)
2. Pour the mixture into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat on high until the bottom of the bowl is cool to the touch and the whites have formed stiff peaks.
3. Add the butter, a tablespoon at a time, beating until each is well combined before adding the next (about 15 seconds in between). If the mixture looks very soupy after adding the butter, put it in the refrigerator to chill for about 5 to 10 minutes before continuing to beat.
4. Once the butter has been added, switch to the paddle attachment, and beat on high until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. (The mixture will probably break and look curdled at one point—don’t worry it’s totally normal. Just keep beating away. It’ll come back together.) Once the buttercream is fluffy, add lemon extract and beat until combined.
To assemble the Cake:
1. Stack the bottom layer of cooled cake on a cardboard cake round (these make it 1000x easier to move the cake, and also protects your cake plate or stand from being scratched up when you’re cutting into the cake later.) Using about a cup to 1 1/2 cups of frosting for the center layer, spread the frosting out from the center of the cake until it hangs over the edges.
2. Stack the top layer directly on top of the bottom, making sure the cake is even. Spread a very thin layer of frosting across the top and around the edges of the cake. (It doesn’t have to be perfect. This is the crumb coat that seals the cake. It’ll be covered later with the final coat of frosting, so no one will ever see it!) Refrigerate the cake until the frosting is set, about a half an hour to an hour.
3. Once frosting is set, remove from refrigerator and frost completely with remaining buttercream. After it is completely frosted, it can be left at room temperature. (I put mine back in the fridge because my house was warm and my frosting was looking a bit melty. Just remember to take it out of the fridge about an hour before serving to let it come to room temperature, or the frosting will be hard.)